The return of De'Mornay Pierson-El could be key as the Cornhuskers look to build momentum in the second half
If you’re a Nebraska football fan, hopefully you stocked up on Pepto-Bismol before the season began. One emotionally draining defeat after another left Big Red backers less and less impressed with athletic director Shawn Eichorst’s new hire.
The good news is that following the Huskers’ 48-25 blitzing of Minnesota, not only did Mike Riley's team end its losing streak against the Golden Gophers, but the head coach and his players both built momentum heading back home.
Let’s review what’s been and what we have to look forward to.
Offensive MVP: QB Tommy Armstrong
Is there any other answer? So goes Armstrong, so goes Nebraska.
Defensive MVP: DL Maliek Collins
You don’t hear Collins’ name too often, but that’s because he’s being double-teamed thus others get his spotlight. He still manages to shrug off attempts to hold him back and gobble up the ball carrier which speaks volumes.
Best Moment of the First Half: Janovich's Big TD Run
Despite being part of a tear-jerking loss, fullback Andy Janovch’s 55-yard touchdown run versus Wisconsin is hard to beat for the No. 1 spot. It didn’t end up being the game-winner that many thought it would be, but it was the second-longest TD by a fullback and made 90,000 people sound like 900,000.
Best Newcomer: LB Chris Weber
Nebraska’s linebacker depth is comparable to a puddle’s, but Weber and his 42 tackles have been a blessing. With Josh Banderas and Michael Rose-Ivey on the bench, the walk-on hasn’t only played the role of a more mature player, but a scholarship athlete. He may be both soon enough.
Biggest Surprise: Finding Ways to Lose
Okay, the Hail Mary against BYU can be tossed out. However, the 2015 Husker crew aren’t even half a minute away from having two more wins (Illinois, Wisconsin).
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
1. Can Nebraska Finish?
This goes under the “Finding Ways to Lose” category. If the Huskers’ offense can be as effective as it was versus Minnesota and Mark Banker can shore up his defense as starters return, this is a team that can easily become bowl eligible.
2. It’s Me, It’s Me, It’s D-P-E
With De’Mornay Pierson-El hopefully back for good, Nebraska has a player that simply cannot be replaced in terms of ability. Looking closer to 90 percent than 100 against Minnesota, he showed why Riley wants to get him involved as much as possible. He could also be good for vital points in the return game which may ultimately lead to wins down the road.
3. Will the Pass Defense Tighten Up?
This question will be answered by how much of a pass rush the Blackshirts can manage and that seems to be slowly improving as the season goes along. If Freedom Akinmoladun, Jack Gangwish, Vincent Valentine and Collins can stay healthy, we may see a suddenly superior secondary.
Ranking the Toughest Remaining Games on the Schedule
1. Nov. 7 vs. Michigan State
This was my No. 1 from the get-go. Connor Cook is easily the best quarterback that Nebraska will face during the regular season. The good news is the Big Red gets a couple of weeks to not only get some of their injured back, but work against some less talented opposition as a tune up.
2. Nov. 27 Iowa
Did anyone else expect to be talking about a 7-0 Iowa team? I didn’t. Will it shock me if we’re talking about an 11-0 one taking on Nebraska? Nope. Quarterback C.J. Beathard is more than talented to lead a winning Hawkeye attack.
3. Oct. 24 Northwestern
2015’s edition of The Battle for NU features two teams going in opposite directions. Nebraska finally breaks through with tremendous effort for a win against the Golden Gophers. Meanwhile, Northwestern is bumbling and stumbling thanks to back-to-back embarrassing losses to Michigan and Iowa.
4. Nov.14 at Rutgers
If the Big Red’s going to finish the regular season as a bowl-eligible team and can’t beat Michigan State, the mission needs to continue in Piscataway, N.J. Nebraska doesn’t get its first and only bye week until after this game. Fortunately for Nebraska, Rutgers is essentially a dumpster fire of a program.
5. Oct. 31 at Purdue
While I’m not usually a believer in the Transitive Property of College Football, the Minnesota team that Nebraska just shoved aside clobbered the Boilermakers 41-13.